Food Waste Sensors Might Be The Answer

The Lempert Report
November 02, 2017

You already know that the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization says that one-third of food gets spoiled, bottom line is that’s about $1 trillion every year.

That translates to double the dollar volume of the grocery industry as a whole. 

What we do know is that in order to reduce food waste we have to control environmental conditions including temperature, moisture levels, and UV exposure all across the supply chain including on shoppers homes.  

The Spoon reports that a group of researchers led by Giovanni Salvatore at ETH Zurich have developed a biocompatible microsensor that can be directly applied to food and is safe to eat. The sensor is made from a combination of edible materials such as magnesium and a compostable polymer made with corn and food starch. 

According to Salvatore, the sensors can be used in a variety of scenarios, including transportation of food on cargo ships. He says that “In preparation for transport to Europe, fish from Japan could be fitted with tiny temperature sensors, allowing them to be continuously monitored to ensure they are kept at a cool enough temperature.” 

But there is a problem - making them is currently very expensive, compared to pennies or even fractions of pennies for traditional RFID tags. The biggest challenge for this technology is bio-compatible sensors will still require a local transmitter to send signals to the outside world. That transmitter and power source would typically be something like a Bluetooth radio and battery, and as of today, the researchers have not figured out how to make these systems digestible. 

Salvatore predicts that these biodegradable sensors will be part of our everyday lives within 5 to 10 years, depending on the level of interest shown by industry. By that time, the battery, processor, and transmitter would probably be integrated into the microsensor, Salvatore explains.